The Army decided Wednesday to formally open court-martial proceedings against suspected Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan, who will face the death penalty if he's convicted of carrying out the 2009 rampage at the sprawling Texas military base which killed 13 people and wounded 32 others.
Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell, who commands Fort Hood and the Army's III Corps, announced the decision late Wednesday morning, bringing an end to months of fevered speculation about whether Hasan-a military psychiatrist who is the sole suspect in the attack-would face the prospect of being executed for the crime. Hasan's civilian lawyer has consistently argued that his client shouldn't face the death penalty, but Campbell cleared the way for a trial that could end with Hasan's death.
"Campbell has referred the case to a general court-martial for trial," the military announced in a written release. "The court-martial is authorized to consider death as an authorized punishment."
Wednesday's decision means the court case against Hasan can finally begin in earnest, but it will be months before any sort of verdict is reached. A military judge still needs to be appointed to oversee the trial, and Hasan-who was left paralyzed after being shot by guards responding to the attack-has yet to be arraigned.
The future court-martial proceedings will be closely watched by observers inside and outside the military because of lingering questions about whether the Army should have taken stronger actions against Hasan in the run-up to the attack as evidence of his growing religious radicalization became apparent to colleagues and friends.
In the aftermath of the shootings, which represented the worst act of military fratricide in American history, former colleagues of Hasan's at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he did his residency and worked as a psychiatrist before being transferred to Fort Hood, said he expressed fervently Islamist views and deep opposition to the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In at least one case, Hasan gave a public presentation titled "Is the War on Terrorism a War on Islam: An Islamic Perspective," which was interrupted after participants complained that he appeared to be encouraging terror attacks against the U.S.
Investigators also uncovered evidence that Hasan had been in regular contact with radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen with ties to al-Qaida who is thought to live somewhere in Yemen. The Obama administration has authorized the CIA or the military's Special Operations forces to kill Awlaki once he has been located.